Sparkle of Joy

Lessons from my Dogs,

Sparkle of Joy

 

                                               “Dogs never die,

                                                They only sleep in our hearts”

 

            Even though Chance’s transition into the next realm was peaceful and beautiful, her physical death left me in a dull place, void of colour. However fragile she’d become in her last months, she was our rock. I missed her quiet wisdom and her solidity, as if she alone had held us four together. After she was gone, I wanted only to write of her yet couldn’t, for I’d loved her more than words; nothing came out right.

            But change, perhaps somewhat ironically, is our constant in life, and life marched steadfast and forward, if differently from before. Isabelle joined our small family, settling in beautifully. And now time’s swift wings have once again returned to us the quiet peace we knew before, as well as great abiding joy.

          Now, too, there is a way that I can write, for Chance returned to our family on the 5th of November (my sister’s birthday) 2015. Her name is Sparkle. As I sit with pen to paper, I attempt to record impressions of both Chance and Sparkle, interspersing the past with present, like fallen red autumn leaves on late-summer’s green grass.

            In late October, I got a call from my friend Carolyn.

            “I don’t suppose you want a beagle puppy?” she asked.

            Do polar bears like the Amazon? I wanted to say. I take in the seniors for one thing, and I had three seniors, my limit, as I work and also travel. The beagle puppy was a girl and I had three females. If we brought in another, it would be male. I told Carolyn all this; it was out of the question, but I also asked her to send me a photo. A friend had three male beagles, and had just lost her oldest. It could prove a good match, and in this way I might help.

            Carolyn emailed me the photo. It would not be the first time I fell in love with a face in a photograph: my destiny had been shaped once long ago when my sister sent to me in Paris a picture of Lauren, my first beagle. But this was different. A shiver ran down my neck. I found myself staring at Chance. Not that the beagle looked exactly like Chance. But rather that I could feel Chance. I had a deep knowing that was not rational, but saw something outside of time, beyond the material sphere. Which only made it all the more hard to say no.

           There began the familiar anguish of indecision. I simply could not take in another, and yet… I knew. Friends and family could say I was crazy (my rational self hardily concurring), but I knew. Friends and family could urge me, for my own health and sanity, not to take on another dog, let alone a puppy (my left-brained self vigorously nodding up and down) but only I knew what I had to do, what I was meant to do. It was as if I had no control over my actions, or perhaps, a more gentle way of saying it was that I was being guided. The knowing was just too strong. I knew the little beagle was Chance coming back. And I knew I would suffer far more than the stress I was currently feeling if I did not open my arms, my home, and ultimately, my heart once again.

            Still, I waffled and waited.

            Then, two days later, I compromised, telling Carolyn I’d foster her. (The same words I had told the SPCA when I first saw Chance so many years ago.) But I was too late. Carolyn had taken the little girl beagle to Animal Control the day before, crying all the way.

            I drove as fast as I could, then walked through the doors to a cacophony of barking dogs, and there I saw her for the first time. She was curled in a ball on a cot that perched on the cement floor, while all around her dogs bayed and yelped. A metal bowl filled with kibble stood untouched off to the side. She peered up at me wary. Even standing, I could see her body visibly trembling.

            She looked so confused and terrified, what choice did I have but to tell the girl at reception that I would adopt her? I paid the fee, now afraid someone else would take her, knowing she was supposed to come to me. And then began the wait, a ten-day wait, in which her people had time to come look for her if in fact she had merely run off and become lost. I suppose I should have rejoiced if her people came to claim her, but I was afraid, just like she.

       

            I’d drive to the shelter and walk her out through the fields, and once outside, she sprang to life. I noticed she had a short tail and looked probably to be mixed with something other than beagle, just like Chance had been, in this case maybe rat terrier. The sun shown down in one beautiful beam, touching us both, and I named her Sparkle.

            I should note that about a week before Carolyn called me, I’d read a New Yorker article that detailed the torture Luke Woodham inflicted on his dog, Sparkle, and the subsequent death. In a kind of uncomprehending pain as I read, I circled the dog’s name, and vowed to name my next dog, Sparkle, in this dog’s honour. I slipped the page in a drawer with my passport and other documents so I wouldn’t forget in six or seven years’ time when I got this new dog. Little did I know. So, be careful what you wish for, or what you intend. These days, it would seem everything is accelerated.

            Then came the day to pick up Sparkle. I was both nervous and excited. I prayed for harmony in our household. Ours is quiet household—peaceful, sedate. Or rather, it was. It was the peace that comes from three (with me, four) elders living together: books, movies, naps, food (okay, couch potatoes, but happy coach potatoes), time spent outdoors just being. Enter into this still-ish scene a two-year-old. In dog years, she was about six months.

            Yet, young and puppyish as she was, she seemed to know our home at once. With uncanny sense, she moved as if she’d always lived with us. Sasha, Olive and Isabelle may have been a trifle startled as her buoyant energy shattered our peaceful world, but they welcomed her with the grace and acceptance I’d come to expect from them—Olive in particular going the extra mile and sharing (or renouncing) all her precious toys.

            Then came the similarities: the small body and rounded head; Chance had loved to play and squeak the toys. So too did Sparkle. Chance ran on three legs, lifting up her left hind; so too did Sparkle. Chance loved to hunt, making a particular snuffling sound as she did. So too did Sparkle live to hunt, and made the snuffling sound as well. Chance had an under bite; so too did Sparkle. When the big snows came in February, Sasha, Olive and Isabelle remained snuggly inside. But little Sparkle plowed out through the frigid, fluffy, white covering, tunneling her head underneath just as Chance had always loved. The list is too long, and perhaps only meaningful to me. Our greatest mystical experiences exist beyond words, and can only be felt, often unique unto us. We just know. As the Little Prince so eloquently said, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Chance with purple toy, directly below. And below Chance, Sparkle with purple toy.

 

         

          Of course, animals can incarnate in completely different forms—a dog returning as a tree or a bird—they needn’t look at all the same. Sparkle is her own dog, and different from Chance. But perhaps the soul remains the same.

          For there was one similarity, the most poignant, that brought tears to my eyes. Chance had loved Sasha, trying always to coax her into play. But Sasha, forever fearful and not grasping of the concept of play, would stand, ears pricked, yet uncertain how to engage. And so she never played—not once—never even picked up a toy. In the evening, even though her earlier attempts at play had been ignored, Chance would spend hours licking and licking a bellied-up, blissed-out Sasha, forever loving, like a mother still loves even when children disappoint.

            When Chance died, Sasha grieved the most. Perhaps I will never know, but I sense Sasha, thirteen or fourteen-years-old, didn’t want another ‘chance’ to pass her by—because now the dog who has never once, in her ten years with me, played—not with Flash or Chance, as I so ardently visualized, and not with Olive or Isabelle—has been drawn out of her shell, reborn, like the spring surrounding us now.

            Every morning and some evenings too, Sasha and Sparkle go round and round, leaping and tussling, or tugging the toy, each seeking its destruction. Watching their joyous, uplifting display, I realize how essential is play, and also that it is our natural state. Then afterward, in the evening, Sparkle licks Sasha, as if lulling her to a blissful sleep, perhaps telling her, “It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m here. It is always okay.”

The dog who never once played, now playing. And Sparkle licking Sasha

            If I had doubted the connection to Chance, Patty Summers, www.psanimal.com, our animal communicator, confirmed it when she asked Sparkle if she was Chance. Her reply: “We are one and the same.”

            And so, by opening our hearts and risking stress, as well as more than a certain amount of inconvenience, we’ve allowed a little spark of joy to be rekindled, one we hadn’t realized had flickered almost out.

            A friend of mine, who was going through a particularly hard time, spoke of searching through the embers for that little spark of joy, or anything to give life meaning again. On certain days she would feel it ever so slightly, just a warm touch, but it was enough to let her believe the joy would return, the spark was still there, and that it had the power to ignite the love she had once felt so strongly as her constant. I am happy to say, her fire is burning brightly again. And maybe that tiny ember remains lit within us all, a sort of spiritual pilot light, awaiting only our own match to strike.

            Now as the first light of spring highlights yellow daffodils, and the hyacinths’ sweet scent fills the air with wonder, I see the eternal in all things that pass away. Flowers who’d lain dead beneath two feet of snow, now pop their smiling heads forth in wonder and in joy.

           As I walk outside to greet the first light of morning, a memory comes to me unbidden. I remember a little domed, cream-coloured head, and how it moved through those same daffodils, illumined in dawn’s pure light as if haloed by all things beautiful and good. Chance. And I recall how I vowed to remember that moment always: the joy, the love, so beautiful, so pure it brought me to my knees, as it so often does, in gratitude for what simply is.

            Now as I walk that same path up from the front yard, past the plum tree and the almond tree whose pink petals blow and scatter across the ground like confetti, past the apple trees, and the cherry tree, and in through the same gate, she’s there: a round, brown head covered in spring’s soft light. Sparkle. I watch the play of light and shadow, as birds fly overhead from branch to feeder to ground and back again. Early sun glimmers turning morning dew to diamonds, and all I can think is what an amazing and sparkly morning it is.

            Over and over my dogs teach me to relax. To trust. No to worry. It all works out. I see time and time again, the continuum of all things bound by love. I feel the affirmation of life, Mother Nature, of something mysterious and far greater than I. I feel the eternal in all life pulsing around me. If I don’t understand, I stand back and look to the bigger picture. Yet it’s easy to feel that love is the thread connecting all. Love is the tiny ember, and the roaring bonfire—our link to eternal light.

Chance with blue toy; Sparkle with blue toy